Years ago, before I ever became an Assistant United States Attorney, there was Newton, the county seat of Catawba County.  Not far off I 40 West, Newton was a small place with its Courthouse sitting squarely in the middle of town. You could park your car diagonally across the street and not be limited as to time or money. Parking was free.


            You would think this would be a perfect place for a young lawyer to try his first jury trial.  No one would know he was even there.  Boy, would you be wrong.  I was a relatively new lawyer in the Special Prosecutions’ Section of the Attorney General’s office, and my job that week in Newton was to prosecute a local well known pharmacist for mishandling prescription drugs. He had an out of town lawyer as well, someone from Charlotte by the name of Allen Bailey, who was well know for his trial abilities and for helping to start the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.  It promised to be a slaughter.


            But I was prepared. I had written all my questions out in long hand on a legal pad…for every witness I was going to call.  I was ready, or so I thought.  But I had not anticipated that the witness might answer some of my questions differently from what I had planned. My first witness, after about the tenth question, went one way with his answers, but determined and prepared, I went straight ahead with my questions.  All of which made no sense.


            Finally, the Superior Court Judge could not stand it any longer, and he called my co-counsel to the Bench, and said something like “Jim doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing.”  My co-counsel, Mike, said “Judge, he doesn’t.  This is his first trial. It’s my first one too.  Can you help us?”


            Fortunately, the Judge was a rather kindly man who liked and knew my co-counsel, and so he said, “Well, tell him to ask his questions this way – “What happened next?”  I did what the Judge suggested, and after a week’s trial in the only Courtroom in the county, the jury convicted my defendant, the pharmacist, of a misdemeanor…a small fine and unsupervised probation was his punishment.


            But, we thought we had won.  It wasn’t the jury verdict that was important, but the fact we had not been run out of the Courtroom, when early on in the week was a real possibility. 


            I have never forgotten that week.  And so when I went back to Newton on Tuesday of this week, February 23, for a seminar in Lew Waddell’s law office, I got there a little early, drove into town, parked my car in almost the same spot as years ago, walked around the Courthouse and took pictures.  Times have changed since then. The Courthouse is no longer such, but now is home to the Catawba County History Museum. No more wins and losses there. No more fiery closing arguments. No more young lawyers, just getting started.  But not all has changed. You can still park your car across the street for as long as you want…and still for free.





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